Just days after implementing two emergency rules to protect the naturally reproducing population of kokanee in Wickiup Reservoir, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife earlier this week rescinded those rules.
The rules would have removed the kokanee “bonus bag” of 25 fish on Wickiup Reservoir, and would have closed the Deschutes River arm of the reservoir a month earlier than usual in late summer.
Wickiup Reservoir will open to fishing Saturday under the regulations printed in the 2017 Oregon Sport Fishing Regulations. Anglers can still harvest as many as 30 kokanee per day (25 plus the daily trout limit of five) on Wickiup, and the Deschutes arm, key spawning grounds for kokanee in late summer, will remain open until Sept. 30.
The flip-flop was due in part to a dramatic backlash from upset kokanee anglers, many of whom like to harvest the fish for consumption. A landlocked sockeye salmon, the kokanee is known as one of the best-tasting fish species in the world.
“There was a high level of concern expressed by the angling community on the magnitude of the change for the bag limit and the timing of it,” said Brett Hodgson, ODFW fisheries manager for the Deschutes District. “This gives us an opportunity to address some of the concerns and to collect additional data to determine if our concern with the water management and natural production are playing out — and to engage the angling community and give them a better understanding of why we are recommending these changes. It was a pretty big change, and we kind of sprung it on them suddenly.”
Because Wickiup is not stocked with hatchery fish, the entire fishery depends on the natural production of kokanee, brown trout and redband trout, according to Hodgson.
Under a new water management regime meant to protect the Oregon spotted frog, which is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, the kokanee population in Wickiup could now be at risk, according to ODFW biologists.
The water in Wickiup is now drawn down for irrigation purposes earlier in the summer, so Crane Prairie Reservoir can remain full longer to protect the spotted frog, which breeds in the shoals of Crane Prairie, according to Erik Moberly, a Bend-based fisheries biologist for the ODFW.
This concentrates fish in a smaller area near the unscreened outlet of Wickiup and makes them more vulnerable to both fishing pressure on the spawning grounds and escaping from the reservoir downstream into the Deschutes River. Biologists say this will limit the annual production of kokanee and trout at Wickiup.
Moberly said the ODFW has data indicating that when the water in Wickiup gets low in late summer, as many as 40,000 kokanee per day leave the reservoir and enter the Deschutes through the unscreened outlet.
The emergency rule to close the Deschutes arm of Wickiup to fishing one month earlier, on Aug. 31, was meant to protect spawning kokanee, which start migrating up the Deschutes arm in late August to spawn.
“We are not anticipating making any changes this year, but there may still be the need to close that spawning area early,” Hodgson said. “There will be no change to the bag limit in 2017.”
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